We’ve been here before: With a major tournament on the horizon, there’s debate over whether Raheem Sterling deserves his place in the England squad.
While his record at international level and in major finals has been impressive, his club form for Chelsea is not much of a reason to include him with the World Cup in two weeks’ time.
Sterling has scored twice in the Champions League since the start of September, but after failing to strike in Sunday’s defeat at Arsenal, he has now gone 596 minutes without a Premier League goal or assist, stretching back to the end of August. .
It doesn’t help at all that he doesn’t have a permanent role. Whether it’s wing-back, winger or striker, Blues manager Graham Potter seems unsure of how to get the best out of the 27-year-old, or even what his best position is.
Former England defender Micah Richards, who watched Sterling against the Gunners for MOTD2, said: “I still rate Raheem very highly, but he’s a bit lost.”
“It’s like he’s a bit frustrated with Chelsea’s set-up and, tactically, doesn’t know what he wants to do.”
A big move – then a new manager
Sterling did not lose his way as he had hoped when he mapped out his £50million switch from Manchester City to Stamford Bridge in July.
Sterling was chased by Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich but apparently impressed In the view of then manager Thomas Tuchel, And the role he outlined for himself in his team.
Less than two months later, Tuchel was history. Potter is now plotting Chelsea’s future, but frequent changes to his formation and tactics suggest he is unsure of the best way to use many members of his new team, including Sterling.
“Rahim joined another top club in Chelsea and it seemed like the perfect move for him,” added Richards. “But then they changed their manager and we all saw the upheaval that followed.
“After a manager signs you and says you’re their top man, it must be frustrating when a new manager comes in and wants to use you differently, like Tuchel did with Sterling.
“Every player needs to have some stability. I think he’s in good hands with Potter – let’s make that clear – but now it’s up to him to get the best out of Sterling.”
‘Get Sterling on the ball near goal’
Sterling scored 131 goals in 339 appearances for City, with his trademark finish coming in to finish a towering pass at the back post.
He has been less prolific since joining Chelsea – probably because he is getting fewer chances in front of goal.
|Man City 2021-22||Chelsea 2022-23|
|40.1||Minutes per shot||56.5|
|49%||% on target||39%|
|175.9 kg||Minutes per goal||339|
“The reason he’s been so effective at City is because he’s part of a system that works,” Richards explained. “He knew the system, and he fixed it because the team needed the runs he got.
“City played the same way, dominating the ball every week with 70-80% possession, but now he’s in a team in transition after changing managers and always seems to be changing formations.
“The whole team is still figuring out how to play under Potter, so it’s not just Sterling who has to sort it out.
“It hasn’t helped to use him in different positions. Ideally I want to see him taller and wider on the pitch, preferably on the left, so he can go either way – inside or outside – when running into the box.
“But whatever you call his role, you want him on the ball close to goal, not running 60 or 70 yards to get a shot in his own half.
“For City, he always gets the ball in the opposition half. When he got his runs into the area, he knew the ball was coming because of the players on their team to supply him.
“It’s not like that playing for Chelsea – he has to create things himself.”
Should he start against Iran?
Sterling also had a tough time ahead of last year’s European Championship, as his goals dried up for City and he was benched for their biggest games.
Southgate remained loyal, however, and Sterling repaid him with three goals to help England reach the final and also secure a place in the team of the tournament.
Will the Three Lions boss do the same this time around when he picks his team to face Iran in their opener in Qatar on November 21?
“You want your players to be in good form, but I think Gareth will stick with him this time, I can understand after what he’s done for him in the past,” Richards said.
“He hasn’t been great all season, but at least he’s playing a lot, which is what he wanted when he left town.
“I will start him against Iran, as part of a front three with Bukayo Xhaka and Harry Kane. After what he has done for England in the past, that trust is deserved.
“Let’s see how he does in the first game and then assess it. If he doesn’t do anything, it might be time to rotate.
“But we’ve seen how Raheem has responded before, basically after being cut for England, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him reminding everyone how good he is.”